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Will It Be a US Endgame at Copenhagen?

The US is in Copenhagen with a very strong hand, having succeeded in significantly furthering its basic agenda of refusing to commit itself to a substantial reduction in emissions until the major developing economies are on board. It is also clear that the US remains firmly committed to ensuring that its hegemonic interests are not seriously compromised by the outcome of climate change negotiations. With the climate laggards in tow, and a pliant European Union unwilling to assert its better instincts, there is a serious danger that the US would dominate the endgame at Copenhagen with an outcome that substantially meets its requirements, at the cost of the developing countries. Above all, a US-led outcome would spell an end, at least temporarily, to serious emissions cuts by the developed countries.

COMMENTARY

Will It Be a US Endgame at Copenhagen?

T Jayaraman

The US is in Copenhagen with a very strong hand, having succeeded in significantly furthering its basic agenda of refusing to commit itself to a substantial reduction in emissions until the major developing economies are on board. It is also clear that the US remains firmly committed to ensuring that its hegemonic interests are not seriously compromised by the outcome of climate change negotiations. With the climate laggards in tow, and a pliant European Union unwilling to assert its better instincts, there is a serious danger that the US would dominate the endgame at Copenhagen with an outcome that substantially meets its requirements, at the cost of the developing countries. Above all, a US-led outcome would spell an end, at least temporarily, to serious emissions cuts by the developed countries.

T Jayaraman (tjayaraman@gmail.com) is at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
december 12, 2009

S
lowly but steadily, as the cliché goes, the stakes at every meeting of the Committee of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have been rising.

On the one hand, there is the ever increasing pressure for action, driven by the need for early progress on effective measures to combat the effects of anthropogenic global warming. On the other hand, as the magnitude of the effort required has become clear, the developed nations have increasingly sought to evade their responsibilities and thrust the burden of mitigation action on to the developing countries.

Over the last two years, ever since the 14th COP meeting at Bali, the developed nations led by the United States (US) have sought to corner the developing nations on the entire range of issues at stake in the climate negotiations. The focus has been on diluting or erasing the implications of the principle of “common and differentiated responsibilities based on respective capabilities’’ and forcing the developing nations into arrangements that compel them, in some form or the other, to take on binding commitments for mitigation action. Progressively, these efforts have become more blatant.

The last two years have seen increasingly contentious negotiations, with the developed countries trying to wear down the resistance of the developing countries by a virtually unending series of proposals referring to what the latter should do, while increasingly evading precise commitments in relation to their own responsibilities. Among the developed nations, while the European Union (EU) has to some extent been cognisant of its global responsibilities, the overall agenda has been increasingly driven by the most laggard elements in its ranks including A ustralia, Canada and Japan, acting in concert with the US. The developing countries have, however, been fairly unyielding in the face of this

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pressure, with the G-77 and China forming a solid bloc that has rebuffed the developed countries’ t actics and stratagems.

New Strategy

In the face of the impasse in global climate negotiations, a new strategy has been set

in motion by the developed nations. In this move, inspired and directed by the US, the goal of a legally binding outcome at C openhagen has been sought to be replaced by a vaguely-phrased “political declaration” that would be couched in generalities and broad overarching commitments by all nations. L ater, however, the proposal has evolved into an “operational accord” that would however postpone any legally binding commitments, especially for drastic reduction in emissions, by some or all developed nations to a later date. Regrettably, the EU has joined these efforts without any significant resistance.

Two particular points need to be made with regard to this strategy. First, that the US has a long history of evading negotiations that give all nations equal status in negotiating legally binding commitments. The US has sought, over more than a decade, to float a series of bilateral and multilateral fora, which are intended to circumvent or pre-empt the general negotiating process at the UNFCCC. This strategy has had some success, as most of the large developing nations and the European members of the so-called G-20 have not resisted this process. China’s presence in particular though has ensured that the US has not entirely had its way in the G-20 negotiations on climate-related matters. Second, even in these fora, it is clear that the strategy is to begin with the declaration of broad areas of agreement. The subsequent aim, however, is not the elaboration of d iffering levels of responsibilities, but precisely the opposite, the erasing of any d ifferences with the ostensible claim of seeking common means and solutions. This was most recently evident in the statement released from the so-called M ajor Economies Forum in September that spoke in general terms of limiting g lobal temperature increases to 2 degree c elsius and committed all signatories to that goal without any attempt to spell out in concrete terms what the developed countries in particular would do to attain it.

COMMENTARY

To these two considerations that are spe-In the run-up to Copenhagen, the task cific to climate negotiations, there is a third of floating such an initiative has been giv-

MANOHAR

consideration that determines the behaviour of the US in the climate negotiations. The outcome of global climate negotiations, as indeed those of multilateral negotiations on a wide range of issues, have become hostage to US exceptionalism, that requires the world to await the outcome of the US domestic legislative process, before it is clear that any US commitment at the global negotiating table would be honoured. Even if President Barack Obama were committed to a deal on the climate issue, and however protective such a deal may be of US interests, there is no guarantee that a few senators of extreme rightwing persuasion, driven by obscurantist attitudes, focused solely on short-term economic interests and prey to the blandishment of assorted industry lobbyists will not bar US ratification of such a deal.

Short-Circuiting Process

Apart from the nature of the outcome, the focus has also been short-circuiting the negotiating process seeking to replace the current format with what has been described as a “leader-driven” process that would ostensibly enable a high-level political resolution of the key stumbling blocks in the negotiations. While this has been a fruitful strategy occasionally on some questions such as nuclear disarmament or arms control treaties, it is evident in this case that experienced negotiating teams that understand the intricacies of a range of technical issues are sought to be r eplaced by political figures (of whom Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh appears to be a singularly apt example) who would be more amenable to pressure and potenti ally unaware or inadequately prepared to judge the farreaching consequences of their decisions.

In the particular case of India, it has been evident for some time that while there has been a firm stance at the global negotiations, there has also been a marked reluctance to directly criticise the industrialised nations on the climate issue at the political level. The attempt to replace the negotiation process underway by a “leaderdriven” process with an obscure and indeed unstated agenda has therefore justifiably raised alarm and concern in India.

en to the host nation Denmark, itself not known to be a leader on climate issues. The Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen has initiated a two-pronged initiative, one part of which is directed at securing a sufficiently high-level political participation at Copenhagen, and the other directed at tabling a new text for a new agreement that sets aside the entire negotiating process of the last two years.

Danish Text

The new text has been held confidential, shown selectively to representatives of some of the major developing countries and then taken back without the benefit of being able to study it in detail. It is unclear at what stage at Copenhagen and in what manner it would be presented openly to the various delegations. Leaks to Indian and international media suggest that the draft is replete with proposals that are likely to be summarily rejected by the major developing countries, based on their current negotiating positions. Martin Khor, one of the most articulate and erudite exponents of the third world positions on climate issues, in his article in EPW (28 November 2009) has clearly discussed the nature and dangers of these proposals. Whether this is an initial negotiating stance on the part of some of the developed nations amenable to further modification or whether the climate laggards are trying to set up a situation doomed to fail (driven by their desire to minimise domestic difficulties in getting climate action going as with the US and Australia) is also unclear.

The process part of the initiative has tried to piggyback in part on US exceptionalism. It has been argued that the limitations on Obama’s flexibility at the negotiating table should not stop other countries from trying to achieve what is p ossible in general terms while waiting for the US to weigh in later with specific emission reduction commitments. The time frame over which the contents of this “operational accord” would be converted into a legally binding agreement is uncertain. In the event, an “operational accord” is likely to be binding on developing countries in need of assistance while deve loped countries would simply have comp arable legal obligations.

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december 12, 2009 vol xliv no 50

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

The major developing countries for their part have been careful to evade being cast as “deal-breakers”. Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, China and India have all finally announced some kind of commitments. Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa have announced specific emission reduction targets while China and India have announced reductions in emissions intensity or carbon intensity. At the same time they, with China taking the initiative, have responded to the Danish draft text with a clear counter proposal that lays down the minimum that they expect. This proposal, the text of which has become widely available in India, reiterates the fundamentals of the developing country negotiating positions while laying down a definite date, namely, June 2010, for the conversion of a Copenhagen outcome into legally binding commitments.

US Moves

But the outlines of the US strategy were most starkly revealed by the recent White House press statement announcing the modification of President Obama’s dates for visiting Copenhagen. Announcing that he would be present on 18 December, at the peak of the ministerial part of the COP meeting, the statement made it clear that this was a consequence of China and India having for the first time set targets for reduction in carbon intensity. But surprisingly, it added a fact that has escaped general worldwide notice, stating:

There has also been progress in advancing the Danish proposal for an immediate, operational accord that covers all of the issues under negotiation, including the endorsement of key elements of this approach by the 53 countries represented at the Commonwealth Summit last weekend.

Indeed the Port of Spain declaration on climate change released after the C ommonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) summit had stated:

We believe an internationally legally binding agreement is essential. We pledge our continued support to the leaders-driven process guided by the Danish Prime Minister and his efforts to deliver a comprehensive, substantial and operationally binding agreement in Copenhagen leading towards a full legally binding outcome no later than 2010. In Copenhagen we commit to focus our efforts on achieving the strongest possible outcome.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
december 12, 2009

Further the White House statement added that President Obama had consulted with major OECD leaders and had agreed to join an effort to raise $10 billion annually by 2012 for climate assistance (a figure far short of developing country demands). Significantly, the statement concludes:

Based on his conversations with other leaders and the progress that has already been made to give momentum to negotiations, the president believes that continued US leadership can be most productive through his participation at the end of the Copenhagen conference on 18 December rather than on 9 December.

It is clear that the Port of Spain declaration is a significant victory for the US, assisted by the personal presence of the French President Nikolas Sarkozy and the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen. Further, it is clear that this declaration could not have been achieved without the acquiescence if not the active participation of India in its formulation.

Current Confusion in India

The current confusion in Indian climate policy needs to be revisited in this context. It is significant that Jairam Ramesh has in his pronouncements in Parliament, changed the pitch of India’s climate policy by focusing on the importance of unilateral action and completely omitting any reciprocity in the form of guaranteed deep emission cuts by the developed nations. Unfortunately, the Opposition has fallen for the ploy of the focus on the reduction of carbon intensity that is not a particularly significant issue.

Jairam Ramesh has also been repeatedly introducing further confusion, attacking the per capita basis of equity c onsiderations, denying that intellectual property rights were a significant issue in technology transfer or suddenly declaring that there was no “operational significance” to the monitoring, reporting and verification of domestic mitigation actions, whether they were supported or unsupported by the developed countries. The last is tantamount to turning his back on the draft text agreed to with China and the other major developing nations that had made a clear distinction between the two.

Above all, the minister announced that even India’s basic minimum was open to further modification if indeed the

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developed countries announced deep cuts in emissions and provided financial assistance and technology transfer. It is not at all evident that the minister’s generous o ffer is based on any serious consideration of and wide consultation on India’s e nergy needs and what would constitute a v iable lowcarbon pathway for India’s d evelopment.

Despite repeated calls by civil society organisations and political parties for his intervention and clarification Prime M inister Manmohan Singh has chosen to remain silent, making it clear (as indeed the minister himself emphasised in Parliament) that the new shift had his backing and support.

It is clear that the US proceeds to Copenhagen with a very strong hand, having succeeded in significantly furthering its basic agenda of refusing to undertake any action until the major developing economies were on board and even then likely to do no more than the barest minimum, as is evident from pending legislation. It is also clear that it remains firmly com mitted to ensuring that its hegemonic interests are not seriously compromised by the outcome of climate change negotiations and subsequent multilateral actions and is moving actively in this regard.

With the climate laggards in tow, and a pliant EU unwilling to assert its better instincts, there is a serious danger that the US would dominate the endgame at Copenhagen with an outcome that substantially meets its prime requirements, to the detriment of the developing countries. Above all a US-led outcome would spell an end, at least temporarily, to serious emissions cuts by the developed countries.

The firmness that China and the African nations in the G-77 have so far displayed is the real guarantee that the US will not have its way without serious challenge. The care with which the Obama-Hu Jintao statement has been crafted in the matter of reciprocity stands in contrast to the several weak elements in this respect in the Obama- Manmohan Singh statement. One of the major dangers attending the Copenhagen negotiations is that of India abandoning the developing countries’ camp to side with the US as has happened before in international trade negotiations with serious negative consequences. Progressive and democratic public opinion in India needs to exert itself to try and minimise the possibility of this eventuality.

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